Career Path: Certification and EducationMay 1, 2013

Deciphering an Alphabet Soup of Options By
May 1, 2013

Career Path: Certification and Education

Deciphering an Alphabet Soup of Options
Planners participate in a PCMA education session. Credit: PCMA

Planners participate in a PCMA education session. Credit: PCMA

Advancing through the meeting planning and incentive travel program profession now requires deciphering the alphabet soup of certifications. Like many professions, planners serious about their career must constantly prove competency by acquiring certifications, and augmenting job experience by participating in continuing educational programs.

But making sense of the acronyms has gotten trickier. A range of certifications and certificates is now available. Some certifications are new, others are soon due to be introduced (or reintroduced) in 2013 and even the more established acronyms are undergoing a comprehensive revision. While prerequisites and the amount of course work necessary to complete each one vary, this growing abundance reflects the maturity of this increasingly competitive, and lucrative profession.

“Meeting planner” can be a broadly defined trade. Their core task — organizing a meeting or event — in actuality represents a large and eclectic skillset. Programming content, attracting attendees, assessing venues for site selection and fully utilizing new technologies are just a few of the basic talents planners require. The career can advance to a strategic management level with responsibility for aligning meetings with corporate objectives, measuring business results and ROI, and developing enterprise-wide strategic meetings management programs. While some aspects of meeting and event planning are part of various college-level curricula, outside of the industry there is a dearth of specific training for this supremely unique profession.

The View From MPI

Cindy D’Aoust, COO of Meeting Professionals International, weighed in on the key skills and competencies meeting professionals must acquire to stay successful in a climate of economic uncertainty, budget cuts, rapidly changing meeting design, demographics and new technologies.

“With the increased scrutiny on meetings related to everything from budget pressures and Return on Objective to new technologies and attendee engagement, it is more important than ever that meeting professionals in our space operate with integrity, have a strong business acumen and be skilled in all aspects of providing strategic experiential events that drive bottom-line business results.

“Two competencies that will be at a premium for meeting professionals are their ability to measure and communicate the business value of meetings and their ability to sustain attendee engagement.

“Meetings that deliver value to their respective organizations will continue to receive budget support. Leadership will invest in programs that drive positive results against business objectives. To that end, planning professionals will need to be able to clearly define and articulate the positive impact that meetings have on their respective organization, clients and attendees.

“To help our members better understand this subject, the MPI Foundation, along with its thought leadership investors, developed a robust Business Value of Meetings Toolkit series. It is a very comprehensive package of research, information and worksheets designed to help our members identify and determine the value of their meetings.

“Engagement is a challenge for meeting professionals. With five generations in the workplace, it is vitally important that meeting professionals fully understand their audience and the attributes, motivations and principles of each age group. Access to information is but one laptop, cellphone or tablet away. So for the meeting professional, it is about how to deliver relevant and meaningful content to their particular audience in a way that will truly engage them and create an emotional connection. And part of that is giving them information in the manner they want to consume it.” C&IT

As planners seek to advance, it’s the industry education that matters most, especially for a profession where experience in cutting-edge technology and the ability to rapidly adapt to globalization realities are mandatory.

“Most individuals who make a commitment to a certification understand the importance of possessing the knowledge necessary to remain relevant within their profession and tend to be life-long learners,” says Dawn McEvoy, CMP, CAE, director of education at the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA). “The work force is evolving. For meeting professionals, it is becoming increasingly important to distinguish yourself as a knowledgeable professional committed to staying current on the industry trends necessary to and ensuring your meeting is relevant to your audience.”

Karen Kotowski, CAE, CMP, chief executive officer of the Convention Industry Council (CIC), which defines the standards for the Certified Meeting Professional program, says, “Candidates for employment opportunities want their resumé to make it to the top of the heap. Many meeting industry jobs now require or prefer a CMP designation. Employers want to know before investing in a hire that the candidate has the skills and competencies they need, as demonstrated by credible third-party assessment.”

Objective Standards

Certification is an objective validation of the professional standards, acknowledged by employers and others outside of the profession as credible evidence of expertise. “There are many people that have been putting out shingles and calling themselves meeting planners because they have done their own wedding or a social gathering, but have no training in space ratios, risk, contract management, etc.,” says Anita Carlyle, CMP, CMM, managing partner, Moore Carlyle Consulting. “This makes the entire industry look bad when things go wrong.”

She adds that earning certifications started for her as a part of her “continued personal and professional development,” but now have a recognizable impact beyond her own personal career. “We see clients requesting proof of CMPs or CMMs on RFPs.”

“As an employer, when faced with two equally qualified candidates, I am going to choose the one that has taken the time and investment in themselves to obtain their certification,” says Stephanie Krzywanski, CMM, chief operating officer of JR Global Events, and a planner for more than 15 years. “As a business owner, having my CMM makes our company more attractive to current and potential clients.”

Mazda T. Miles, CMM, president of Perfection Events Inc., says certification is “helpful to me in receiving the esteem I desired as an experienced meeting professional when working with or approaching both clients and vendors. My firm focuses on Strategic Meetings Management (SMM) and strategic event design. CMM focuses on the strategic aspect of meetings and events.”

“The standard for a college education is a minimum of a BA/BS,” says Dena Rose, CMP, CMM, project manager A&M Meetings & Incentives. “(Certification) shows that you have taken the additional steps to become a better planner and are serious about your career as a planner.” She points out that certifications “show that you can be considered a Subject Matter Expert (SME),” adding they have been especially useful in the “area of ROI.”

Knowledge Is Power

Certifications indicate a level of professionalism — an in-depth knowledge of best practices — creating a bulwark against a sometimes-hostile media. “Since 2008, the industry has not made it through a year without global media and public opinion attaching a negative perception to a proven business tool,” says Allison Summers, CIS, managing director, Site. The obvious examples she cites include “the U.S. media focus on AIG and the use of incentives in the financial services industry; the U.S. government GSA expenses associated with meetings and conferences; and employee recognition programs.”

But just as the meetings and incentive industry is global in scope, so has been the backlash against some programs, Summers says, such as “Australia’s focus on the appropriateness of the ANZ bank incentive cruise program or negative publicity associated with a program run by a German company in Rio de Janeiro.” And, while Summers emphases that each of these incidents occurred under “very different circumstances and were sparked by specific economical or political issues in their countries,” in each instance the media coverage completely overlooked “the business results achieved from the programs.”

Austere economic times, higher budget scrutiny and a heightened public sensitivity to even the appearance of excessive spending have increased the pressure on planners to justify their meeting and incentive programs. Certifi­cation makes available training enabling professionals to avoid pitfalls that might spark negative publicity.

“Designed correctly, motivational travel programs are proven to be highly effective in helping companies achieve their business goals,” says Summers. “However, there are ethical and financial guidelines that companies and planners need to consider when they are designing a program in order to avoid controversy. In addition to the travel reward, a well-designed program includes specific goals and objectives, an engaging communication plan and frequent measurement and reinforcement.”

Job Market

The job market for meeting, convention and event planners may be relatively healthy compared to other segments of the work force, but it is a very competitive job market, and certifications are increasingly playing a decisive role when disseminating through applicants.

U.S. News & World Report ranked meeting, convention and event planner No. 14 out of 24 occupations listed among its “Best Business Jobs 2013.” McEvoy adds, “Recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (information) projects this field to grow by 44 percent between 2010 and 2020, opening up 31,300 more meeting, convention, and event planner jobs.” She also cites a “2013 Travel Price Forecast” published by Carlson Wagonlit Travel that showed the exhibition industry grew by 2.4 percent and attendance was up in 2011.
McEvoy believes these numbers indicate an upswing in the job market for the meeting profession. “Obtaining a certification shows a commitment to both one’s career and their profession. This type of commitment is typically viewed positively by an employer,” she notes.

McEvoy emphasizes that certification is now key for advancement, citing a 2012 salary survey conducted by Convene (the official publication of PCMA) that showed the average salary for respondents with a CMP was $76,225, compared to $65,609 for those without the CMP designation. “The choice to pursue certification is very personal and should be based on an individual’s desire to show a proficiency in the body of knowledge encompassed by the certification,” she says. “There are certifications geared to different career levels and job focus.”

Adding Acronyms

Planners — especially as they advance in their careers and work in different segments of the profession — pursue different certifications at different stages of their working life. The issue is which one to pursue, and when. “I earned the CMP — after three years, my CMM, about six or seven years into my career,” says Rose. “The CMP makes you stand out, and most companies now want you to have that, but the CMM shows that you are a senior-level planner and are strategic instead of just logistical.”

Why earn more than one certification? “Each certificate has its own focus or specialization,” explains Diana Graling, CMM, CMP, CSEP, manager, global accounts at HelmsBriscoe. Graling, who says she started in event management as a child in the 1980s “working in my family’s restaurant,” says pursuing continuing education supplements on-the-job experience. “(Certification) shows that you have a good understanding of the body of knowledge for the meetings and events and that you understand the theory of meeting and event management, as well as the meaning of various industry terms, definitions and formulas.

“The CSEP specializes in special events — galas, weddings, etc. The CMP focuses more on meetings and conventions, with concepts like SMMP (Strategic Meetings Management Programs), and the CMM focuses on the strategic business plan and how events can fit into the larger picture of an organization’s operations plan, as well as how to strategically plan a new startup company, create a marketing plan and measure business results that can be reported to various stakeholders and investors.”

The Standard of Excellence

The first-line standard of excellence for meeting professionals is represented by the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) designation, offered by the Convention Industry Council since 1985 and earned by more than 14,000 planners. The CIC plans to introduce a subspecialty to the CMP for health care meeting professionals by the end of 2013. “To ensure that the CMP remains current, we conduct a job analysis every five years,” says Kotowski. “Our most recent job analysis included international CMP input and an alignment with other international standards in the marketplace,” she explains. “We are also in the process of updating the CIC Manual (a major study resource for the CMP exam). We ensure that our certification remains relevant by ensuring that it is updated and current with contemporary meeting practices. We expect that our updated manual will have greater emphasis on current meeting industry topics such as return on investment, ethics, sustainable meeting practices and new technologies.”

Meeting Professionals International offers the CMM, the Certificate in Meeting Management. The CMM is a five-day educational program offered to management-level meeting planners. The program focuses on improving strategic decision-making with the goal of delivering exceptional meetings and events that align with business objectives. According to a spokesperson, MPI’s educational program will be completely overhauled and reintroduced later this year.

Incentive Travel Expertise

Site (formerly the Society of Incentive Travel Executives) first introduced the Certified Incentive Travel Executive (CITE) program in 1980, making it one of the oldest, most established certifications a meeting planner can attain. About five years ago, the organization implemented a significant makeover, which included the name change, and the CITE program was put on hiatus. Educational programs were still conducted at the organization’s events, but no new CITE certifications were issued.

Last year, the organization introduced a new certification, the Certified Incentive Specialist (CIS), an entry-level certification that focuses on incentive program creation and management. “The program has been designed to give global incentive travel professionals a greater understanding of the fundamentals, theory and practice of the creative and effective utilization of motivational travel programs to drive business results,” says Summers. “The goal is to raise the bar on competency and competitiveness by elevating the quantity and quality of professionals in the industry worldwide.”

Both the new credential and the makeover of the old one, creating two tiers that cater to professionals at different stages of their career, is a response to a new industry reality: the need for a variety of certifications. “While there are other industry certifications focused on the planning of meetings and events, Site is the only global organization dedicated to providing specialized education on the incentive travel and motivational experiences industry,” says Summers. “The CIS designation provides global practitioners a common understanding of what makes incentive programs meaningful and memorable, and how to deliver measurable business results. The CIS credential is a way for incentive planners and suppliers to distinguish themselves and grow their incentive travel business in a very competitive marketplace.”

Site soon will reintroduce CITE along with the “Site Body of Knowledge,” an educational program, the credits of which will be transferable across meeting industry certification programs. The Site Body of Knowledge is “a suite of standardized courses that will qualify industry practitioners for clock hours towards the CITE and other credentials such as CMP, ” says Summer. “The curriculum offers three progressive tiers: Core Knowledge, Business Practices and Discipline Practices. Site leaders have mapped out the content for these new programs and will debut some of them at the Site Global Conference taking place in Orlando, Florida, December 7–10, 2013.”

Business Travel Roadmap

In 2013, the Global Business Travel Association introduced its Global Travel Professional (GTP) Certification, the first certification to exclusively focus on the business travel component of meetings and incentive program management. “Like the travel industry itself, certification programs have evolved to address today’s needs including quickly developing technology and a global economy,” says a spokesperson for GBTA. “These programs change to reflect the latest thinking around new and more effective ways to improve and advance the industry. Recognized certifications show a level of commitment, knowledge and education which makes all the difference in today’s economy.”

Diversity Matters

The CDMP (Certified Diversity Meet­ing Professional), introduced in 2008, reflects the new social reality confronting meetings and events. The CDMP provides in-depth training on multicultural markets and meeting attendees. According to Margaret Gonzalez, president of the International Association of Hispanic Meeting Profes­sionals (IAHMP), the certification targets “meeting planners and other industry professionals. With a growing awareness of the multicultural markets in the USA — Native Americans, Asian Americans, African/Black Americans and Hispanic/Mexican Ameri­cans — and their purchasing power — over $1 trillion for His­panic Americans alone — the CDMP will continue to be relevant in assisting the industry to gain their business. The CDMP is for everyone in the hospitality industry who wants to work with these markets. The demand for certifications is growing, and programs like the CDMP presents information not included in other industry certifications.”

As companies and the meetings and incentive programs they organize become more global, diversity skills become indispensable. “I work primarily with international groups so the diversity component was essential for me,” says Vanessa Olmo, CDMP, a 20-year meeting planning veteran and now owner/director of the meeting planning company Business Endeavors, based in Helotes, TX. “Certifications show that you are not just committed to the industry, but that you continually educate yourself within the industry.”

According to diversity speaker-trainer-consultant Carole Copeland Thomas, MBA, CDMP, owner of C. Thomas & Associates in Lakeville, MA, the certification “demonstrates that you are on the cutting edge of trends in the meetings industry. It also proves that you are connected to others in the industry who value diversity, inclusion and multiculturalism, and improves your knowledge about the important aspects of African American/African/Caribbean, Hispanic, South Asian, and the Asian-American meeting marketplace.”

“I truly believe that the certifications set me apart from other professionals with an added-value to my clients,” says Carlos Conejo, CDMP, 17-year meeting planning veteran and president and senior consultant for Multicultural Associates Workforce Development Consultants. Earning his CDMP, “shows my commitment to continuous learning and offers my clients more depth of knowledge. It goes beyond what I know and shares best practices that can really positively impact my client’s bottom line.”
He adds, “My business has just about doubled since I obtained my certifications.” C&IT

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